How to Feel Less Busy
Most of us would consider ourselves busy in the plainest sense of the word—and if you’re here and reading this article, it seems safe to assume to that you fit into the busy mold, too.
While making oneself less busy is often an exercise in dawdling or running pointless errands (the printer can only run out of elbow grease so many times, Harold), here are a few ways you can make your own haste more bearable.
Start early, finish early.
Contrary to what non-morning people think, beginning your day earlier than necessary doesn’t shift your hours of operation up a few pegs. You’ll often notice that waking up a couple hours early doesn’t alter your bedtime.
Instead, you grant yourself an extra chunk of daylight with which to accomplish your goals.
Additionally, replacing the feeling of exhaustion that accompanies late hours with a sense of euphoria at finishing one’s work an hour or two early will leave you feeling mentally relaxed.
Respect your own “Do Not Disturb” hours.
Maybe you’re one of those people who can’t leave your cell phone or email inbox alone while you’re off the clock. I’m guilty of this myself; the stress of knowing that your inbox is probably filling up with hate mail from your boss and free money from Nigeria as you take an hour to yourself is absolutely maddening.
Ask yourself this, though: when was the last time your actual inbox matched your perception of what it might look like after a night away?
Once you learn that it’s okay to punch out mentally as well, your periods of rest and relaxation will significantly improve.
Similarly, it can be tempting to want to get a head start on the following day’s tasks. Resist the urge to plan or do some “light work”—instead, treat your off-the-clock hours the way they deserve to be treated and just have a damn beer.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with tasks when you keep seeing white numbers on red backgrounds popping up on your Facebook page and your phone is constantly whistling at you. Since these are often tasks that don’t matter in the context of the work day, consider muting them while you’re in work mode. The less visual and audible input you have, the less you’ll feel like you’re juggling.
Leave a small task unfinished.
This is a favorite of mine. At the end of the day, try to leave a small, easily accomplished item on your checklist for the following day. This will allow you to start the following morning with a work-related warmup of sorts.
Especially if you’re getting up earlier than necessary, having this tiny task will help ease you into the day’s routine.
Even if the task is something as small as reloading your stapler or installing a computer update, this is a fantastic way to feel productive while not overburdening yourself from the moment you step into your office.
Establish a reasonable effort baseline.
It’s easy to want to go all-out when you first take a position or receive a promotion, but try pacing yourself a bit. Tackling an insane amount of work at the beginning of your time with an employer will set that standard as your baseline in their eyes, while leaving yourself with some space to improve in the beginning will afford you some breathing room later.
This isn’t to say that you should purposefully suck at your job, of course—just know that you don’t have to scale Mount Everest every day to hold onto your job.
Pay attention to down time.
It’s easy to note the amount of time you’re spending performing a certain task. Less easy is realizing and embracing the brief respites between tasks, or finding time to relax while performing an easy job.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had a job cleaning the floors in the UC kitchen. It wasn’t a particularly entertaining job, of course, and it was fairly challenging most nights; however, I knew that the point at which I had to wash the kitchen mats was a time to look forward to, since it required little cognitive input and allowed me a break from the stench of rotting produce and cleaning chemicals.
I also grew potatoes under a soup kettle in that kitchen as a form of retribution toward our grumpy boss, though, so perhaps you shouldn’t listen to me.
The point here is simply that taking some time to appreciate the invariable breaks between momentous tasks throughout the day will make the day seem marginally less crowded, which may be exactly what you need.
And, failing that, try kicking a potato or two under your boss’ desk. They’ll sprout for, like, no reason at all, and you’ll get a laugh out of it.